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Why are We Still Being Hornswoggled? Dissolving the Hard Problem of Consciousness


In this paper we try to diagnose one reason why the debate regarding the Hard Problem of consciousness inevitably leads to a stalemate: namely that the characterisation of consciousness assumed by the Hard Problem is unjustified and probably unjustifiable. Following Dennett (Consciousness explained. Penguin Books, New York, 1991, J Conscious Stud 3(1): 4–6, 1996, Cognition 79:221–237, 2001, J Conscious Stud 19(1):86, 2012) and Churchland (J Conscious Stud 3(5–6):402–408, 1996, Brainwise: studies in neurophilosophy. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002), we argue that there is in fact no non-question begging argument for the claim that consciousness is a uniquely Hard Phenomenon. That is; there is no non-question begging argument for the claim that consciousness is necessarily in explicable in terms of the structure and function of mental states. Unfortunately the debate has not moved on because the majority of materialists feel the pull of the at least one of, what we call, the ‘key’ intuitions that supposedly support dualism and the existence of a Hard Phenomenon and so try to accommodate them rather than denying them. Although this a possible response to the intuitions it tends to mask the fact that there is in fact no argument for the existence of a Hard Phenomenon. So we end up participating in our own hornswoggling (Churchland in J Conscious Stud 3, (5–6):402–408, 1996) and chasing our tails trying to answer a question we should in fact ignore. We have no reason to think there is a Hard Problem of consciousness because we have no reason to think the Hard Phenomenon exists.

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  1. 1.

    Of course we do not want to claim that this brief sketch is anywhere near comprehensive enough to meet Chalmers’ demands regarding a functional analysis. But meeting those demands is not required to make our current point. We want to say that it is far from clear that theoretical developments will not lead to the development of the functionalization of phenomenal qualities. And this claim is made plausible by the existence of a theory which does just that.

  2. 2.

    We want to be very clear that this is not a characterisation we endorse. Dennett is clearly a realist about consciousness and about phenomenal qualities (i.e. how things appear to the subject). The central piece of evidence that his theory of consciousness aims to explain is heterophenomenological reports i.e. how things appear to the subject (Dennett 1991).


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G. C. was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE110001021) Our thanks go to Richard Brown for organising the consciousness online 4 conference where we first presented this work, Janet Levine, Jennifer Matey and Ellen Fridland for their commentaries on that version, along with David Chalmers, Daniel Kostic, Arnold Trehub, Eric Thompson, Tony Wagstaff, Dusko Prelevic, Philip Goff and one anoymous participant (Handle: drbrillh) for their feedback at that event, Peter Menzies and the other members of the department of philosophy at Macquarie University for their discussion, two anonymous reviewers, Liz Irvine and finally, the members of the consciousness reading group at Macquarie.

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Correspondence to Glenn Carruthers.

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Carruthers, G., Schier, E. Why are We Still Being Hornswoggled? Dissolving the Hard Problem of Consciousness. Topoi 36, 67–79 (2017).

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  • Consciousness
  • Hard problem
  • Mary
  • Zombies
  • Bats
  • Hornswoggle